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Issue #1718      February 10, 2016

Climate

Mad attempt to reverse the course of history

Last week the CSIRO announced that 350 of its Marine and Atmospheric Research staff are to be sacked. The brutal move is significant in the light of recent claims by scientists that a slow-down in the rise of average atmospheric temperatures is attributable to the oceans absorbing a greater amount of the additional thermal energy created by greenhouse gases.

CSIRO’s RV Investigator – a state-of-the-art marine research vessel.

Last Thursday the head of CSIRO said the organisation would now focus on areas of high technology, to ensure trade advantages for Australian businesses. Nadine Flood, National secretary of the Commonwealth Public Service Union, commented:

“Government cuts to the CSIRO have already done untold damage with critical research halted into Alzheimer’s disease and dementia, bowel cancer, geothermal energy and liquid fuels. … this gutting of CSIRO is being modelled on Netflix and Silicon Valley … Taxpayer spending on science should be about improving Australian lives now and in the future, not moving CSIRO to a business model based on speculative investment rather than real science.”

Professor Will Stefan from the Climate Council added that “Our firefighters, our emergency services and our community will be less prepared for climate risks, including bushfires, heatwaves and extreme weather.”

The Turnbull government is following the lead of the odious Abbott regime, which attempted to close all government agencies responsible for reporting on climate change, or making recommendations for its mitigation or assisting the development of renewable energy.

Private donations enabled Climate Council staff to continue their work. The Australian Renewable Energy Agency and the Clean Energy Finance Corporation survived only because they had contractual obligations with private firms.

However, the Turnbull government still wants to abolish those institutions, and is now attacking the Bureau of Meteorology and sections of CSIRO which provide scientific evidence on climate.

The government has also removed restrictions on approvals for 21 coal mining projects, so mining corporations will be less subject to ministerial demands for changes to their proposals and the public will also have difficulty monitoring compliance with approval conditions.

For example, if BHP Billiton wants to change its management of threatened species or environmental offset areas for its Caval Ridge mine in the NSW Hunter Valley, it won’t have to wait for the federal Minister’s approval or publish its intentions on the web. All it has to do now is state that in its opinion the new arrangement won’t harm the environment.

The Turnbull government has also approved two massive Adani coal loading ports at Abbot Point in Queensland, which will pollute the Great Barrier Reef, and the NSW coalition government recently approved an extension of the Springvale mine at Lithgow, which will result in waste water from mining polluting watercourses in the magnificent Blue Mountains.

Who pays, who benefits?

Climate change and nuclear warfare are the two biggest threats to human life. Yet successive coalition governments have blocked moves to mitigate climate change, apart from the outrageous, ineffectual “direct action” plan which offers polluting corporations massive taxpayer-funded bribes to cut their emissions.

AGL has announced it will cease coal seam gas mining in Queensland and NSW, even though that will involve a $795 million write-down on its assets. But other coal and gas companies are relying on the support of their allies in a mad attempt to reverse the course of history.

Last week in an astounding article in The Australian former ABC chairperson Maurice Newman accused the Bureau of Meteorology of being driven by left wing “green” ideology and implied that the Bureau had in effect “cooked” its data.

The Bureau has reported that 2015 was between the fifth and sixth hottest year on record in Australia, and according to the UK Meteorology Office, 2015 was the world’s hottest year on record. Greenhouse gas-emitting industries would certainly welcome any attempt to discredit institutions that produce weather reports like that.

International climate change denier Bjorn Lomberg also weighed in, arguing that in order to lift Africa out of poverty it must have coal-fired power stations, because despite the widespread use of renewables they have only provided a tiny fraction of what the continent needs.

Amazingly, to justify this argument Lomberg described wood, which has traditionally provided most of the energy for cooking and heating throughout Africa, as a renewable energy source, even though it bears no comparison to modern renewable energy systems, and burning it produces greenhouse gas emissions which exacerbate climate change just as fossil fuels do.

Coal and gas mining corporations argue that climate change has ceased or slowed down, and that humankind should still rely on fossil fuels for energy. They doubtless support the arguments put forward in Newman and Lomberg’s articles, and they will do whatever it takes to slow down the tectonic shift in global energy production towards the use of renewable energy.

But deep down they know they won’t succeed, so they want to rip out as much coal as possible before the bottom really falls out of the market. Keen to give them every assistance, the government wants to approve as many new mining applications as possible before Turnbull begins to lose his popularity, which stems in large part from public relief at the deposing of his loathsome predecessor.

Australia is one of the world’s largest exporters of coal, and last year our greenhouse gas emissions grew by 1.3 percent compared with the previous year, even though the government promised at the Paris climate conference to reduce emissions by 26-28 percent within the next 15 years.

Coal-fired power stations, which produce about a third of Australia’s greenhouse gas emissions, now produce 5.1 percent more emissions than in June 2014, i.e. just before the Abbott government abolished Labor’s carbon and mining taxes. According to carbon consultancy firm Reputex, that makes Australia one of the worst emitters in the developed world. The agreement between Labor and the Liberals to cut the renewable energy target has also stalled the development of the renewable energy sector.

Scientists now predict rapid atmospheric temperature rises over Alaska, Canada, Northern Europe, Russia and Greenland by 2030. Rising temperatures are likely to produce huge methane emissions from the thawing of permafrost regions, an accelerating rise in sea levels and the decimation of some forms of marine life - among other catastrophes.

In order to block the flow of inconvenient information to the public, the government is now abolishing areas of public service activity that provide objective, scientific advice on climate change.

State and federal coalition governments are determined to protect the coal industry. If we really want to do something serious about climate change we must replace them with a new party alliance that is seriously committed to mitigating the potentially catastrophic impacts of climate change. And we must do it soon, before it’s too late.

Next article – Turnbull’s brave new world

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